Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Calҫots have arrived - Food Find

Not only does it feel like Spring is just round the corner but the Spanish Calҫots are here to confirm it.  Spotted at Tony Booth's Bermondsey arch today (supplier to Barrafina, Jose/Pizarro and Tapas Brindisa) the first of the season are just beginning to be harvested in the Catalan fields.  Somewhere between a spring onion and a leek, these alliums were orginally what harvesters missed in the autumn.  The onions remained n the ground over winter and in January/February sprouted from the old bulb.  These days they are a delicacy and are planted to over-winter.  They are traditionally roasted over an open fire and served with the gentle heat of a sunny romesco sauce of chillies, peppers, nuts, garlic, tomato and sherry vinegar.  You could grill them or, a good improvision I saw today, place the Calҫots in a hot dry frying and place a smaller, smoking hot one on top.  Cook on a high heat until charred then wrap the Calҫots in newspaper and they will soften as they cool a little.  Strip away the outer "stocking", roll up the flesh and dip into the sauce.  If you don't want to cook them, and can't get to Barcelona, look out for them in good Spanish restaurants.   

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Seville Orange Cake - gluten free

Seville Orange Cake

I have two friends who are coeliacs, and boy are they fed up with chocolate cake.  Evidence that I'm not the only one who, when faced with having to produce a cake for a wheat intolerant friend, has come up with the ubiquitous flourless chocolate cake.  Coeliac disease is more than an intolerance, being an auto-immune condition triggered by the gluten found in wheat, rye and barley.  In some case, oats are also off the menu.  So, there goes bread, pasta, pizza, cakes and biscuits, at least as most of us know them, so I'm always on the look out for suitable seasonal recipes to ring the changes. 

This cake makes use of those lovely Seville oranges I mentioned a couple of weeks ago which will only be around for another 3-4 weeks.  The recipe I gave you then for Seville Orange Tart is out of bounds to my coeliac friends but this Seville Orange Cake is perfect.  It has few ingredients and, on the face of it, sounds almost too worthy.  Having tried it out on cake lovers with no dietary problems, however, I assure you it more than holds its own in the cake league.  Light, yet moist, it is the perfect plain cake to eat with tea or coffee.

This recipe is inspired by Sam & Sam Clark's recipe in 'Moro the Cookbook'.  The quantities in the recipe below can be reduced by half and the cake baked in a 18cm round tin if you want a smaller cake.  You can use sweet oranges instead of bitter Seville but add the juice of 1 lemon to sharpen up the juice if you do.  I sometimes mix some chopped almonds into the ground almonds to give the cake a bit more texture.  I don't add a cinnamon stick when making the syrup, as the Sams do, as I find it overpowering.   A little candied peel served with the cake is a nice touch but it's good on its own. You can make your own candied peel from the Seville oranges.

Seville Orange Cake
(for a 23cm cake tin.  Halve the quantities for a 18cm tin)

6 eggs, separated
240g caster sugar
230g ground almonds (or 180g ground and 50g chopped)
Finely grated zest of 2 Seville oranges (or 2 sweet oranges and 1 lemon)

Juice of 4 Seville oranges (or 4 sweet oranges and 1 lemon)
2 tablespoons caster sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (160C Fan oven).  Line with greasproof paper a 23cm loose bottomed or springform cake tin on the bottom and sides.  Mix all but 30g of the caster sugar with the egg yolks until pale.  Mix in the almonds and zest.  Beat the egg whites with the 30g of caster sugar until stiff.  Mix a third of the stiff egg whites into the almond mixture to loosen it up then carefully fold the remaining egg white in trying not to knock out the air.  Gently pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin.  Bake in the middle of the oven for about 60 minutes (30 minutes if you've made the smaller cake) until the cake is firm and golden.

While the cake is baking, bring the juice and sugar gently to a boil then simmer for 10 minutes.  It should taste quite tart.  Leave the syrup to cool.

Once the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes on a cake rack in its tin.  Make a few holes in the cake with a skewer and pour over the syrup.  Once it's completely cool, turn out the cake. 

The cake will keep well for 2-3 days.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The allotment in winter - love your leeks

Leeks Gribiche

The day has dawned cold and windy but dazzlingly sunny and, in the allotment, somewhat sodden underfoot.  The plots are deserted, save for the singing of blackbirds already sensing spring, and the odd jet black crow stabbing at the ground.  Fortunately at this time of year the last thing the land needs is for someone to come along and dig.  Its structure needs no intervention when the weather is wet or cold.  I’m happy to leave the soil to rest and rejuvenate, disturbed only by the wildlife that reclaim the land over the winter months.  I clear away the inevitable bird wing, no doubt left by the cat who likes to utilise my patch as a lure to its prey. 

There isn't much left in the ground to appeal to anyone or anything right now.  A patch of leeks, which have grown well in the mild weather stand sentinel.  Some over-wintering onions and garlic, which really shouldn’t be so far advanced at this time of year, could fool you into thinking spring really had arrived.  They may pay for their forwardness if winter does eventually put in an appearance.  A cluster of desiccated calendula flowers offer their seeds to passing foragers.  Amazingly, a few flowers cling on, adding an unexpected flash of colour.  Raspberry canes flex in the fierce winds and bide their time.  Save for the skeletal soft fruit bushes, the rest is bare earth populated with the odd tenacious clump of self-seeded grass.  Ah yes, the weeds.  Thousands of enemies lying snug in their earth blanket waiting for the last of the frosts. They'll compete with the seeds I’ll start sowing sometime in March, but they'll also be a guide as to when to get started.  When it’s warm enough for the weeds, it’s time to plant.

Today I’m here to prune back those gooseberry and currant bushes to ensure a healthy crop come the summer.  I cut out dead and crossing branches until I achieve the optimum vase shape which will allow good air-flow and make picking easier.  The gooseberry bush likes to protect its fruit with the sharpest of barbs.  Despite all my efforts, a fruiting season without scratched and torn forearms is one I’ve never achieved.  'My' robin has arrived.  Perched on a spade handle only four feet away he fixes me with a hopeful "worms please" eye.  I turn a little of the, relatively warm, compost heap and unearth a few lethargic wrigglers for his benefit. 

Every year is different in the garden.  The only constant is what grows well one year will let you down the next, and something that didn’t deliver may well grow abundantly next season.  I have no space to start off seeds under glass and no inclination to mollycoddle seedlings so everything goes straight into the ground.  It’s thrive or die on my plot and as I grow biodynamically, I'm even more dependent on nature than most.   

Apart from the autumn-fruiting raspberry canes, which I’ll cut down to the ground in February to stimulate new growth, my plot is now ready and waiting for planting to start in March.   A quick tidy up, a few of the smaller leeks pulled for lunch, and it’s time to leave the allotment to ‘my’ robin (and probably that pesky moggy) for a few weeks.   So, what to plant this year?  That’s a whole other pleasure to ponder. 

In the meantime, here’s a classic recipe for those leeks.  Smaller leeks are best for this dish.  The herb I use is chervil as I like the extra dimension of mild aniseed it brings to the sauce but it's more correct to use chopped chives or parsley, I think.

Tip: If you dislike raw shallot, dice it and put it in boiling water for 30 seconds to take away the astringency before starting this recipe.

Leeks with sauce Gribiche
(Serves 4 as a starter or light lunch)

12-16 small leeks, topped and tailed (but retain some green)
1 small shallot, chopped into very small dice
1 tablespoon of wine vinegar or lemon juice
Salt & pepper
5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
A few cornichons (I like more cornichon than shallot), chopped into small dice
2 hardboiled eggs
A few sprigs of chervil

Clean the leeks scrupulously.  Drop them into boiling salted water for about 4 minutes, depending on size.  Once cooked, plunge the leeks into iced water to stop the cooking and retain their colour.  Dry throughly on kitchen paper.

Put the diced shallot into a bowl and add the vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper and leave to marinate for 5 minutes.  Whisk in the olive oil to form an emulsion.  Add the diced cornichon and crumble in the egg yolks.  Mix well.  Dice the cooked egg whites and fold in with the chervil.

Serve the leeks with the sauce and decorate with a litte chervil.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Christchurch Fish - London needs you!

Catch of the day from
Christchurch Fish
We've all got the message by now that seafood is good for you, but finding quality fresh fish in London isn't easy for the home cook.  Some of the best is to be found on London Farmers' Markets. It was fantastic to see Les of Christchurch Fish, who trades at Blackheath and South Kensington markets appear on the Bermondsey Trail, centred around Maltby Street, one Saturday in December.  I was wowed by the freshness of the catch, though as the weather conditions in December had been less than ideal for fishing, the produce was limited.  Fishing conditions at the moment are excellent for this Dorset co-operative of small inshore fishing boats.  Last Saturday's catch included lobster, crab, seabass, gurnard, place, pollock, pouting, flounder and turbot, along with cockles, mussels and clams.  The "beautiful" herrings I was hoping for were sold out by the time I got there, but the brill I spotted was sensationally good.

Using ecologically friendly fishing methods, the catch is preserved in soft-ice immediately and the boats return to their home port of Mudeford each night.  Selling direct means there's no hanging about in the distribution chain. A lot of the fish on offer elsewhere can be up to five days old by the time it gets to our tables.  No wonder we don't eat enough fish.

The methods used by Christchurch Fish seem to me to be real sustainable fishing - small boats, fishing a local area, bringing in whatever is caught.  Though I did ask for more information when Les mentioned they carry out some dredging for scallops early in the year, prior to beginning hand-diving in May.  There is no question that dredging by 'otter', 'beam' and 'pair' trawling, carried out by boats over 10 metres long, is bad for the environment.  The issue of dredging is contantly under discussion and I wondered what this small-boat co-operative is doing gathering scallops in this way.  The answer was "there's dredging and dredging, much depends on the weight of the dredge, the type of ground worked and the intensity of the dredging.  We have one boat that crabs year round and dredges a very small area bounded by his crab pots for two days a week, weather permitting, for about ten weeks a year when the crabbing is poor. That skipper has worked the same ground for 15 years and scallop stocks there have remained healthy throughout that period."   Although I'd like to understand this subject more, it seems obvious that the fisherman would be crazy to damage his own patch.  

Having sampled a range of fish and shellfish, it was no surprise to me to hear this month that Christchurch Fish were voted 2011 "Favourite Stall" by market shoppers at South Kensington.  Voters singled them out for their "knowledge, customer feedback, excellent product and reasonable prices".  The care taken to catch, handle and transport the fish and shellfish is consistently apparent.  Les is more than happy to talk fish and knows his subject inside out.  It feels like shopping on the quayside, and it's in the middle of London.

To find out what Les will be bringing to market each week, you can go to Christchurch Fish's website and subscribe to his weekly email.  You can also give him your order to avoid finding the herring you'd set your heart on is going to end up on someone else's plate.

London markets currently attended:

Maltby Street, Bermondsey SE1   Saturdays
South Kensington Farmers' Market   Saturdays
Blackheath Farmers' Market    Sundays

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Seville Orange Tart to celebrate the citrus

Seville orange curd tart with a bit of singe

The season for Seville oranges is fleeting so we need to make the most of them.  Harvesting begins in December and the fruits are over by February so it's easy to miss them.  If we're organised we gather some up for marmalade making, but it's a shame to restrict them to our favourite toast topper. 

Despite their association with the Mediterranean, all members of the orange family originated in China and were brought to Europe by Arab traders.  Reaching for my invaluable Jane Grigson's Fruit Book I learn that the present day citrus groves stretching from India across to Spain mark out the trajectory of conquering muslim armies in the the sixth and seventh centuries.  The first oranges grown were the bitter Citrus aurantium.  Too bitter to eat from the tree, they were cultivated for the scent of their blossom, for perfumes and for distilling into orange blossom water to flavour food.

Sweet oranges, Citrus sinensis, arrived much later, coming from China to Europe via Portugal in the 17th century.  There is now a wide variety of citrus fruits, but the bitter orange continues to be grown in Spain as the 'Seville orange', mostly to satisfy the British taste for Marmalade.  There is more to the bitter orange than marmalade though.  The juice is an excellent variant for lemon flavoured dishes and the following recipe is essentially an orange curd tart.

Seville Orange Curd Tart

It is based on the Tarta de naranjas sevillanas from 'Moro The Cookbook' written by Sam & Sam Clark (which reminds me that I haven't yet introduced you to this book - a serious omission I will remedy soon).  I first ate the tart in their restaurant Moro several years ago and was very pleased to find the recipe in their first book.  The filling is entirely theirs and, I think, is perfect.  The pastry here is similar to theirs but is the one I often use for sweet tarts, being light and easy to work with. The pastry recipe will make twice as much as you need so use half and freeze the rest for next time.  To reduce the chance of curdling the eggs, I thicken my curd in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water rather than over direct heat.

The tart is aromatic, rich and creamy yet well balanced and light.  You could, if you have any, top each slice off with a little candied peel.  Don't throw away peel as you can candy it for use in cakes or ice creams.

Seville Orange Curd Tart

The texture of the curd can vary a little.  If you use slightly too much juice, as I sometimes do, stick to timings given but bake the tart in the oven for an extra 3-4 minutes.  You will get a little browning of the curd but the tart is none the worse for that.

Seville Orange Tart
(Serves 8)

PASTRY (makes 2 x 22cm tart cases):
250g (10oz) plain flour
25g (1oz) ground almonds
Pinch of salt
150g(5oz) butter
60g (2oz) icing sugar
Grated rind of half a lemon
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons milk

170ml (6fl oz) Seville orange juice (about 5 fruits)
170g(6oz)  unsalted butter, in small dice
4 egg yolks + 2 whole eggs (large)
140g( 4oz) caster sugar
Finely grated zest of ¼ orange (Seville is fine)

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the ground almonds and salt. Add the butter and rub in with fingertips. Sift in icing sugar and add grated lemon rind and mix. Lightly beat the egg yolk and milk together and stir into the dry ingredients. Mix until the dough just comes together then turn out and knead gently to smooth the surface.  Wrap half of the pastry and rest in fridge for just 30 minutes (wrap and freeze the other half for another time). 

Pre-heat the oven to 200C (180C fan oven) Lightly butter a 23cm shallow, loose-bottomed tart tin.   Roll out the pastry and line the tin, smoothing off the top and pricking the base several times with a fork.  Rest in the fridge for a further 15-30 minutes.  Line with greasproof paper and dried beans and bake the tart blind for 10 minutes.  Remove the lining and beans and return the tart to the oven for a further 5 minutes to make sure the base is well cooked and lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and put to one side.

Increase the oven temperature to 220C (200C fan).  Mix all the filling ingredients in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water (the bowl should not touch the water as too much heat will curdle the mix).  Stir constantly for about 20 minutes until the mixture thickens - this will happen right at the end, so don't give up hope.  It's ready when it has thickened but is still pourable - you are not looking for a stiff curd.  Should you detect little white albumen globules forming towards the end, pass your curd through a sieve into the tart, otherwise just pour the curd into the base and bake on the top shelf of the oven for 10 minutes until set.  Cool before serving.  Moro serves this tart with yoghurt or crème fraîche but, for me, it's delicious on its own.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

January spirit lifters - Food Find

The days are slowly beginning to lengthen but it takes a little more than that to raise the spirits in London in January.  The arrival of seasonal foods helps me get through the winter.  I was cheered to find the first Yorkshire rhubarb at Tony Booth's arch (Tayshaw) on Druid Street SE1 today.  This is, of course, the "forced" variety grown by candlelight in the atmospheric gloom of a Yorkshire forcing shed.  These delicate pink stems call for careful poaching in sugar to retain their texture and deliver a delicious sweet/sharp compote -  here's a link for more info and a recipe for Rhubarb Mess.  A few weeks from now you'll only be able to get outdoors-grown rhubarb, which is quite different.
Also at market today, the first Seville oranges I've seen this season.  Get them while you can, they'll be gone by February.  Recipe coming soon - there's more to Seville oranges than marmalade!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

My Ribollita

My Ribollita

Ahh Christmas, season of meat, fat and sugar.  We may look forward to it but after several days of excess even we carnivores start to yearn for a meatless day.  The new year has arrived and this is the perfect antidote to over-indulgence.

We may have passed our shortest day in the northern hemisphere but that only marks the start of true winter in the UK.  Our options for home-grown vegetables shrink, including for those of us who are lucky enough to have an allotment, and thoughts turn to warming soups.  With a good mix of vegetables, some beans, bread, a little cheese and a big hit of iron-rich greens, you have a whole nutritious meal in a bowl.  What's more its flavours simply get better should you have any leftovers for the following day.

The Italian word ribollita means re-cooked, or re-boiled, and in Tuscany refers to a dish of leftover minestrone with the addition of cabbage and bread.  I prefer to make it from scratch as I like pesto and pasta in my minestrone but prefer my ribollita without either.  I also like to grate just a little parmesan over my ribollita which would make some people throw up their hands in horror, but I agree with chef Jacob Kenedy.  In the introduction to his BOCCA Cookbook he points out that in Italy "...each city, hamlet and household has its own version of a dish ..." and " would be a hard task to find two ... who could agree on how to make (it) ..". 

So this is my version of ribollita and I admit to some culinary licence.  It's not prescriptive and if I have other vegetables to hand which I think will work, I will use them - celeriac or squash perhaps.  The soup should be quite thick and hearty.  The bread can be completely submerged in the liquor, which is more traditional, but I prefer to keep its crunchy texture so go for the half submerged option. 

Ribollita, the perfect way to banish all memories of turkey or goose for a twelve-month.

(makes about 12 servings)

250g dried Borlotti or cannellini beans, soaked overnight, brought to the boil and simmered for 1-2 hours depending on quality, or 1 x 400g tin of cooked beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 large carrots, diced
3-4 sticks of celery, diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 medium  leeks, halved and sliced
2 medium potatoes
2 large handfuls (about 500g) of cavolo nero (or other dark cabbage), shredded
1 x 400g tin of plum tomatoes
Water to cover
Slices of good sourdough bread
Best quality extra-virgin olive oil

Having first prepared your beans, fry the onions carrot and celery on a medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add the leeks, garlic and the potatoes and fry for a further 5 minutes.  Add the plum tomatoes, broken up, with their juice and add water to fully cover the vegetables.  Add the cooked beans, bring to the boil, season, then simmer for 30 minutes.  Add the cabbage (and diced courgettes if using) and simmer for a further 15 minutes, top-up with more water if necessary but keep the soup quite thick.  Check your seasoning.

Allow the soup to cool a little to appreciate the full flavours.  When ready to serve, fill the bowls, top with toasted sourdough bread (or pour the soup over the bread) and a good slick of your best olive oil.  Put parmesan on the table for anyone who wants it.